As a first, second, third or fourth-time parent and beyond, you’ll likely find that with every baby you experience something that’s …different. Whether it be funny sounds your baby makes, a strange way he or she is behaving or something else, there seems to always be something new to laugh at or to worry about. As a part of those funny or strange behaviours, you may also begin to witness your baby chewing on tongue. Should this make you nervous? Or is it a natural part of his or her development? We’ll explore that and more as we delve into why babies often display this sort of behaviour, and what to do about it.
So, let’s jump in.
Baby Chewing on Their Tongue: Is It Normal?
Why do babies chew their tongues? To alleviate your fears upfront, we want to let you know that a baby chewing on their tongue is typically nothing to worry about…in most cases.
While most tongue chewing can be a part of normal and healthy development, there are of course, times when tongue chewing can be concerning and dangerous.
The benign reasons that baby’s chew on their tongues vary from baby to baby. It also varies by age. For example, a newborn “chewing” on their tongue is likely not actually chewing at all, but rather, that they may be sucking their tongue as a part of their sucking reflex.
More on that later.
A 3 month old chewing tongue, however, could be a self-soothing measure, and a 4-6 month old baby could be chewing their tongue as a sign of readiness for solids.
Got an older baby or toddler chewing on tongue? Well, that could mean several things, but generally speaking, it is often a sign of teething and is a way for your baby or toddler to achieve comfort.
Some parents even find that not long after their baby has been chewing on their tongue comes those adorable little nonsensical syllables at their little one’s very first attempts at language. As baby grows older, you may even find toys that can further help foster their language development!
So, which is which? Again, it depends on your little one. But by and large, these reasons for chewing the tongue are usually harmless, painless and nothing to worry about.
Baby Bites Tongue
Many parents may wonder if baby chewing on tongue bothers or causes pain to their baby. But typically, babies won’t do anything to themselves that causes them pain. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it.
Nevertheless, it is inevitable that your baby or toddler, especially if they have teeth, may bite their tongue in the process of benign chewing. So, what can you do?
In the event that your baby is harmlessly chewing away at their tongue and accidentally bites down, be sure not to panic. Babies feed off of your energy, and the more panicked you become, the more alarmed they’ll be.
Instead, grab a clean cloth or gauze and apply it to the cut with pressure, if there is bleeding. You can also run the cloth under cool water for added relief before applying it to the baby’s tongue.
Afterwards, you may wish to have your older baby or toddler suck on a piece of ice or gargle saltwater, only if he or she is able to handle it.
Once the bleeding is controlled, be sure to enquire of your paediatrician about what should be done concerning your baby’s tongue chewing, as well as address any underlying factors for why he or she is exhibiting this behaviour, especially if it concerns you.
Baby Sucking Tongue
As previously mentioned, babies, and especially young babies, have an intense desire to latch and suck. This is innate and is related to feeding. However, this desire to suck doesn’t stop when the baby is finished feeding. It continues on, as sucking often brings comfort and comes naturally to infants.
Because of this, if you notice a very young baby “chewing” their tongue, it is likely that they actually aren’t chewing it, but rather, are sucking it in a way that appears to be chewing. This again, relieves the urge and desire to suck something to comfort themselves and fulfil their innate needs. To help with this, you may offer a pacifier, or simply allow your baby to do it, as long as it doesn’t seem to hurt them.
Baby Keeps Sticking Tongue Out
Now that you’ve got an understanding of why babies often chew their tongues, there is yet another phenomena that often occurs in the realm of quirky baby habits, and that’s an older baby or a newborn sticking out tongue.
To be honest, this isn’t at all odd, though it may seem to be, as a baby sticking tongue out at 9 months or even 0 months usually is for good reason.
For newborns, sticking out their tongue likely feels natural as it helps them to latch at the breast. Similar to the sucking reflex previously discussed, babies do not exclusively stick out their tongue only when breastfeeding, but may do it during other times as well. The result is a comically cute newborn making faces at mummy, daddy, friends and family.
Another reason you may catch your fresh newborn sticking his or her tongue out is because he or she is hungry. Often times, this is one of those hunger cues you often hear about that coincides with crying, rooting, turning their head in the direction of the breast and more.
For older babies, sticking out the tongue may have other meanings. It could be that the baby is initiating the tongue thrust reflex which prevents the baby from choking on food. In fact, it isn’t until this reflex subsides that babies can effectively begin to ingest table foods, as their tongue reflux prevents them from getting the food far enough to the back of their mouths to swallow it. Typically, this reflex will disappear on its own, generally around 4-5 months.
Older babies also may be imitating others by sticking out their tongue, or in rare cases, it may be a sign of an underlying condition such as Down’s Syndrome.
As always, if you are particularly concerned that your baby sticking out his or her tongue is related to an underlying problem, be sure to consult with your local paediatrician.
Teething Tips: How to Handle When Your Child Is Teething
Out of all of the possible reasons for your baby chewing on his or her tongue, teething is the reason most easily managed. Because teething may cause pain and discomfort for your child, it may help to provide your child with some options for relieving the pain.
So, the next time that you see your little one chewing on his or her tongue in relation to teething, consider trying the following:
- Chill It- Giving your baby a chilled wash cloth or ice to suck on is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to soothe baby’s sore gums without medication or the need to purchase extra gadgets.
- Apply Pressure- Keeping with the easy and inexpensive route, consider using a clean finger to gently apply pressure to your little one’s gums. Just be careful, you may find your little one gnawing on your fingers for extra relief. You could even try a gum massager that fits on your finger, such as the one found here in this travel kit to help soothe your baby’s discomfort and to protect your own fingers in the process!
- Make It Fun- These days, there are plenty of teething options available for babies to nosh on. Just be sure to watch the materials the teethers are made out of, particularly if your baby has sensitive skin, eczema or allergies, and be sure to steer clear of teething toys and jewellery that has small pieces, like beads, that could easily become a choking hazard.
- Be Careful With Over-the-Counter Remedies- While many parents have teething gels containing benzocaine or lidocaine or over-the-counter pain relievers stocked in their medicine pantries, these types of drugs aren’t always recommended for babies. Even popular homeopathic teething tablets marketed for infants are showing to cause seizures in some children, so these options are best avoided if possible.
Other Teething FAQs
Why Do Babies Bite?
There are a variety of reasons that babies bite, and surprisingly, many of them are for reasons we’ve already mentioned. For example, many babies bite in response to the pain and discomfort they feel while teething, while others simply do it as a means to explore in a similar way that they would with their hands. Some babies even bite because of the reaction that they get from you, or the person they are biting. Though it may sound oddly morbid, your reaction, even if it is in response to pain, may actually become a source of interest to them.
How to Stop Baby Biting?
After reading our response to the prior question, you’re probably wondering how to deal with this alarming, though mildly humorous, newfound baby habit. As you might imagine, the way that you deal with biting will depend largely on the reason for why your baby is doing it.
If your baby is biting to relieve teething pain, you may consider purchasing him or her a teething toy or giving them a cool wash cloth to munch on until the pain subsides.
If your little one is biting because, well, it gives him or her joy, try giving your baby a firm “No” and setting him or her to the side for 10-15 seconds to show that you don’t approve of the behaviour.
Whatever you do, we’d encourage you not to take the biting personally, but not to give it unnecessary attention, either. The more you react, whether you are in pain or laughing, the more you will inadvertently encourage the behaviour.
Why Is My Baby Chewing on His Hands?
Depending on the age of your child, hand chewing could mean a variety of things. For newborns, hand chewing, like tongue chewing, is likely a sign that your little one is hungry and will likely manifest in the midst of other cues such as fussiness, rooting and the like.
A 3 month old, on the other hand, may be chewing his or her hands because they have recently discovered them, and they have become their new favourite chew toy. At this age, babies are just beginning to discover the world, and part of that discovery includes their own bodies.
Still yet, older babies, or those that have begun teething, may be chewing their hands because, you guessed it, they are trying to relieve their teething pain. Go figure!
Why Do Babies Suck Their Hands?
The answer to this one is similar to why babies chew their hands. Depending on the age of the baby, he or she may be hungry, making a new discovery, exploring or may be teething!
Why Do Babies Put Things in Their Mouth?
Believe it or not, when a baby is constantly putting items in his or her mouth, it is an attempt to explore, similar to that of touching with their hands. By using their mouth, babies can discover new textures and tastes, though it may be anxiety-inducing, and even downright scary, for you.
To scratch this itch, consider providing your baby with safe sensory objects to keep him or her satisfied. Ideas such as these sensory balls, textured teethers and more are all great ways to foster your child’s natural desire to explore.
The Wrap Up
To summarise, babies often do interesting, and often strange, things when it comes to meeting their needs. As such, a baby chewing on his or her tongue is typically not a cause for concern as it likely can be attributed to some of the natural and expected factors previously mentioned including teething, exploring and the sucking reflex.
As with anything, however, if your baby’s behaviour is particularly concerning or alarming, or you feel something is wrong, always take your concerns to your local healthcare provider for information on how best to deal with the issue you are facing, especially if tongue chewing is leaving your baby injured or in pain.